2nd January 2020: People have been leaving mainframe teams faster than they have been replaced. If BAU requirements hot up or large projects come along, there are no surplus staff available. Ed Hopper discusses the ongoing resourcing challenge and provides some pointers on how industry and organizations can help to ensure the smooth running of their mainframe operations and to support business demands in the years ahead.
After working in this industry for 22 years, I've seen significant changes in resourcing levels in mainframe teams. Successive iterations of outsourcing, redundancies, insourcing, hiring freezes and the impact of demographics - an ageing and retiring workforce - have come together to reduce mainframe team sizes. Gone are the days when banks, utility companies and insurers employed large teams of people across Systems Programming, Database Administration, Storage, Capacity & Performance, Security and Operations. It's a perfect storm of conditions that may come to a head in 2020, hence the need for new approaches to talent, staffing and resourcing.
Closing the gap
Organizations have gone through repeated cycles of upgrading their mainframe to current release levels of z/OS and related sub-systems then thinking "Oh, we'll definitely be off the mainframe by two-thousand-and-whatever, so we won't need to do any further upgrades ...". Three or four years down the line, however, mainframes are still core to their businesses and the systems need upgrading again. In the meantime, many of their most experienced staff have left or retired.
This leaves a gap in expertise that needs to be filled in order to ensure systems are secure and compliant, and to keep giving the business what it needs. Companies often have systems that are "out of support" and need experienced people just to maintain them. Delivering project-related workload from within an existing mainframe support team, also responsible for BAU workloads, is a big challenge. As a consequence, peaks in workload necessitate engaging third-party partners. This could be teams from the big consultancies, people from outsourcers like IBM, skills and resources from specialist mainframe service providers like RSM Partners, or seeking extra bodies from generalist IT agencies to backfill permanent staff. In this way businesses lurch from one upgrade to the next, while the pool of talent available to fulfil these projects continues to shrink; strategically the situation is far from ideal. What mainframe users need is a way to close the resource gap permanently.
Building resilience in resourcing
So how can we resolve the resourcing issue? In my view, the solution lies in four distinct areas. First, the longer term approach: creating a pipeline of new mainframe professionals, developing new talent for the industry and, more specifically, to grow your in-house teams. This is something we've been working on at RSM with our Mainframer in Training MIT programme, which combines formal training and mentoring from longstanding mainframers with hands-on experience. You can read more about MIT here
Second, taking the managed services route to run your key systems. It's important that any such services are both tailored to your set-up and able to flex with changing needs. This approach can not only help you run your operations and deliver the services you need but can also, potentially, save you a great deal of money.
The third solution is engaging, on an as-needed basis, targeted consulting and professional services teams. These experts can help you to focus on, and deliver, specific project workloads as and when you need them, such as upgrades, or essential remediation work.
Fourth, and this is my area of expertise, is having access to focused resourcing services to provide individual experts to bolster your in-house teams at times of need, or to drive specific outcomes. You may need access to personnel for short notice, short duration project work or to cope with the sudden loss of staff due to resignation or illness, as well as medium-term solutions to cope with the demographic challenges posed by an aging workforce. These resources should span the full spectrum of Z infrastructure, associated subsystems, networks and hardware, and should be available to cover both project work and provide emergency cover for BAU activities as needed. At RSM, for example, we have highly experienced Systems Programmers, Database Administrators, Architects, Capacity and Performance Specialists, Security Administrators, Storage Managers, Ops Analysts, and Project and Programme Managers standing by, ready to deploy fast.
Resourcing in action
Here are two examples that illustrate how different organizations are tackling the resourcing issue:
A large UK insurer came to RSM to provide the high level mainframe technical resources it had lost due to previous rounds of redundancies. Our client needed us to ensure that a project which simply had to be achieved was delivered in the required timescale.
In another case, a financial services provider had to upgrade its mainframe automation, which was due to go out of support, to meet the latest security standards. They asked RSM to bring them experienced resources who had undertaken precisely this type of work before at similar organizations. We delivered the skills required to deliver the project.
The reality is that the clamour for resources is only going to increase in volume. We know this, because we've seen it happening across our client base and it's still building: a perfect storm of conditions powering a tsunami of demand from teams that need the right skills and expertise. So, do you have a plan, if and when the resourcing challenge hits you?
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Ed Hopper heads RSM Partners' Resourcing division. He has more than 20 years' experience providing mainframe resources to major mainframe users in the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. He joined RSM Partners in January 2019 to, he says, "be part of a high performing and well-respected team at a company that's growing around the globe."